Two years ago, in an effort to help his engineering program get international accreditation, Jalal Jalil started teaching an engineering ethics course to fourth-year students at Baghdad’s University of Technology.
One of the student outcomes in the accrediting organization’s standards is related to ethics, says Jalil, who is chair of the energy and renewable energy program in the university’s department of electromechanical engineering.
“I think I was the first to teach engineering ethics in Iraq,” he said. “We already have ethics courses in medicine,” he added, “but nothing like that at engineering faculties.”
Najem Al-Rubaiey, the university’s deputy dean for scientific affairs, is one of Jalil’s colleagues in the project. He noted that Iraq’s Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research had required all universities to work toward gaining accreditation from one of two international quality assurance organizations: the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) for science and engineering colleges, or the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) for liberal arts colleges.
“The progress in getting accredited is still not within our expectation, but it is the main focus of the ministry’s current reform plans,” said Al-Rubaiey, who is an assistant professor of petroleum technology.
The ministry’s plan aims to improve Iraqi universities’ academic quality and management processes through working to attain international accreditation. (See a related article, “A Growing Number of Arab Universities Seek International Accreditation,” and an Al-Fanar Media resource that allows readers to search by country for internationally accredited institutions and programs.)
Collaborating With Georgia Tech
In 2020, Jalil submitted a proposal to improve his ethics course to IREX, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization that specializes in global education and development.
IREX helped link Jalil with professors at the Georgia Institute of Technology, which is commonly called Georgia Tech and is one of the top research universities in the United States as well as a pioneer in providing advanced degree programs online.
“We were teaching an ethics curriculum based on an American textbook,” Jalil said, “but the newly developed curriculum that resulted from the collaboration with Georgia Tech was based on many ethics textbooks,” along with the experience of colleagues in a center for technology-related ethics at Georgia Tech.
One of those colleagues, Jason Borenstein, started working with Jalil and 15 Iraqi engineering professors.
“I think I was the first to teach engineering ethics in Iraq. We already have ethics courses in medicine, but nothing like that at engineering faculties.”Jalal Jalil
A professor in the University of Technology’s department of electromechanical engineering
“This is part of their efforts to get accredited by ABET,” Borenstein said. “ABET accredits many engineering programs to assure that a college or university program meets the quality standards of the profession for which that program prepares graduates.” (See a related article, “An Arab Student’s Guide to Higher-Education Accreditation.”)
Given the Covid-19 situation, the collaboration was carried out virtually.
“Creating the content was not that difficult,” said Borenstein. “We have some experience teaching online for a while so far. … We lacked spontaneous conversations, but it worked pretty well.”
Rebuilding Engineering Education in Iraq
Iraq once produced world-class engineers, but years of war and underinvestment substantially weakened the country’s academic institutions, said Lori Mason, a senior technical advisor at IREX who facilitated the collaboration. “The curriculum being developed by Georgia Tech and Iraqi professors will help support Iraq’s engineering programs to international accreditation and quality standards,” she added. (See a related article, “10 Iraqi Universities Rebuild In Wake of Islamic State.”)
ABET accredits programs in applied and natural science, computing, engineering and engineering technology. To date, more than 4,300 programs in 41 countries have received ABET accreditation. None of them are in Iraq, says Jalil, who has organized many workshops to highlight the advantages of accreditation.
“Each of ABET’s seven student outcomes has many performance indicators which are very important to graduates these days,” he said. “Of them only two are related to the scientific aspect, the other five are related to communication, teamwork, continuous learning and ethics. Our students really lack such skills, and hopefully through accreditation, they can gain them.”
Most of Iraq’s engineering faculties started teaching ethics after the ministry’s order.
Jalil and his team of Iraqi engineering professors have worked to develop ethics courses for various engineering disciplines—including architectural, civil, computer, control and systems, electrical, electromechanical, materials and petroleum engineering programs—at the University of Baghdad, the University of Technology, and Al-Iraqia and Mustansiriyah Universities.
“We developed a general curriculum for all engineering disciplines,” he said. “Each participant can choose the case studies relevant to its discipline.”
Safety Issues and Other Dilemmas
The curriculum covers topics like moral reasoning, informed consent, global issues, and emerging technology and ethics, Jalil said.
Borenstein noted that ethics problems in engineering are not exclusively related to safety.
“We have dilemmas whether a certain product, design, building, or technology is safe enough,” he said. “Moreover, an individual engineer may disagree with a boss on with whom or when an information should be shared or made openly available. Some differences in opinions are not only about someone doing something deceptive, sometimes it is just that people cannot agree.”
Despite the collaboration, the curriculum is designed to suit the Iraqi context.
“We offered many options so that our Iraqi colleagues can choose and tailor it the way that suits them better,” said Borenstein. “We used hypothetical or real situation case studies. The Iraqi members have to figure out what works for them.”
Borenstein thinks it is important to “give a sense that there are some ethical principles, concepts and guidelines that engineers need to follow across the globe.”
“If you do not directly talk about things, like professional honesty and protecting the public, in a curriculum, students might not necessarily know about them,” he added.
Iraqi Degrees Accepted Abroad
Some Iraqi engineering graduates who earned their degrees before the accreditation push said they still found it easy to find jobs or pursue higher studies abroad.
Anas Jaroo earned a degree in software engineering in Iraq and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in artificial intelligence at Ruhr-Universität Bochum, in Germany.
“I can get a job with my Iraqi degree here, but not everywhere,” he said. “This depends on the company’s size, status and specialization. The smaller the company, the easier it is to be hired.”
Omar Adnan graduated in 2011 from the Electrical Engineering College at the University of Diyala, northeast of Baghdad, and is currently working on a master’s degree at the University of Vienna.
“I can get a job with my Iraqi degree here, but not everywhere. This depends on the company’s size, status and specialization. The smaller the company, the easier it is to be hired.”Anas Jaroo
A master’s degree student in Germany who earned a degree in software engineering in Iraq
“A graduate has to sit for an exam called Aufnahmeprüfung (educational entrance examination) in certain subjects related to your master’s degree study,” he said, but he emphasized that work experience plays bigger role than academic achievement upon searching for a job.
In Sweden, Iraqi engineering graduates are evaluated as technical engineers due to the difference in some teaching modules and laboratories.
“That is because we study for four years, not five, as is the case here,” said Ahmed Al-Bayati, a Sweden-based graduate of the University of Basra’s College of Engineering. “But it is quite normal if you want to complete a two-year master’s degree or work, the Iraqi degree is accredited.”
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Still, Al-Rubaiey thinks an ABET-accredited program will have a better reputation and that its graduates’ degrees will be more highly valued by employers.
“An ABET-accredited program’s graduates will have a strong foundation and can lead in innovation, technologies, and in anticipating the welfare and safety of the public,” he said.
The project is supposed to go into July, but Jalil hopes the curriculum will be taught in the next academic year.
“Our effort was appreciated by the American experts,” said Jalil, “but there are still many administrative obstacles ahead.”